Nuclear Skeptic Set to Govern Japan Prefecture With Biggest Nuclear Plant via The Wall Street Journal

Ryuichi Yoneyama wins election over a candidate backed by Abe coalition

Opposition-backed candidate Ryuichi Yoneyama, a 49-year-old doctor who has never held public office, beat a former construction ministry official supported by Mr. Abe’s ruling coalition to become governor of Niigata prefecture.

The prefecture, about 2 ½ hours northwest of Tokyo by train, is known as a rice-growing area and the home of a nuclear-power station straddling the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa on the Japan Sea coast.

The nuclear facility, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. or Tepco, is the world’s largest by power output when running at full capacity, but all of the reactors have been idled since 2012. That was the year after the triple meltdowns at Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.

Mr. Yoneyama campaigned on keeping the Niigata facility offline until Tepco better explained the 2011 meltdowns.

“Let me make this clear. As I have promised to you, I will not allow a restart under the current circumstances as I couldn’t guarantee your life and your standards of living” if the plant were put back on line, Mr. Yoneyama said after he was declared winner by local media.

His victory marked a fresh setback to Mr. Abe’s efforts to restart nuclear plants, underscoring widespread doubts about the safety of nuclear power. In July this year, a former journalist who called for more nuclear-safety measures won the gubernatorial election in southern Kagoshima prefecture—one of only two prefectures in Japan with operating reactors.

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